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Hawaii Supreme Court: Yes to Wrongful Foreclosure Counterclaim BEFORE Foreclosure is Completed and No to”Plausible” Pleading

by Neil Garfield | October 12, 2018

Now that the courts are no longer in fear of precipitating an economic meltdown, it’s time to return to legal decisions instead of political decisions. The Hawaii Supreme Court has done just that in a common sense decision that sweeps aside most of the Wall Street arguments against allowing homeowners to raise the fraudulent foreclosure issue. The decision goes back decades in reaffirming the law and the intent of the rules of civil procedure.

The bottom line is that homeowners must be allowed an opportunity to prove their claim at the same time they are defending a foreclosure action. This levels the playing field and hopefully is a harbinger of future decisions from the high court in each of the states.

see Landmark Hawaii Supreme Court Case

BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., SUCCESSOR BY MERGER TO BAC HOME LOANS SERVICING, LP FKA COUNTRYWIDE HOME LOANS SERVICING LP, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. GRISEL REYES-TOLEDO, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant,

Remember that while this decision could be used as persuasive authority, it is not binding authority over the courts of any state other than Hawaii.

There are several parts to this decision each consistent with the others.

  1. On a motion to dismiss, plausibility of the allegations are now irrelevant. The homeowner must be given the opportunity to prove the allegations of the complaint. As the Court correctly points out, the plausibility test requires some consideration of some facts that have not been proven or disproven. Hence the plausibility test conflicts directly with the presumption, on a motion to dismiss, that all allegations are true. “Notice pleading” is the law in Hawaii and purportedly is so in many other states where plausibility tests are nonetheless applied. This opinion may go a long way to reversing that erroneous trend.
  2. Notice pleading requires only a short plain statement of ultimate facts upon which the relief sought could be granted. But I would add that the rules about fraud and deceit are still in play, i.e., I don’t believe that any state, including Hawaii would allow a count sounding in fraud without giving some examples in the pleading of the misleading and/or deceitful way that the defendant(s) acted. This decision basically addresses violation of statute and similar kinds of actions.
  3. The implication of this decision is that the pleading should be short and that the homeowner must be given a fair chance to prove his/her allegations.
    1. I am quite certain that this Court would insist on allowing discovery to penetrate far more deeply that is currently generally allowed.
    2. The arguments that the actual transactions and the actual creditor’s identities are private, proprietary and remote was silly to begin with.
    3. This decision will be used by practitioners in Hawaii to demand access to records and to get it through court orders. This alone will result in a landslide of settled cases under seal of confidentiality — if lawyers for homeowners insist on such discovery.
  4. Further moving the ball forward, this Court decided emphatically that claims of wrongful foreclosure can be filed in a counterclaim against the parties involved with the initiation of wrongful or illegal foreclosure proceedings. That means that contrary to California law and other states, the homeowner does not need to wait to file the claim.
    1. This is a two edged sword. It virtually mandates the filing of the wrongful foreclosure claim because the clock is probably ticking on the statute of limitations the moment the foreclosure is initiated by either judicial or nonjudicial means.
    2. The California doctrine has always been ridiculous and anti-consumer. By denying access to the courts for what is already known to be a wrongful foreclosure based upon false documentation they tie both hands behind the backs of attorneys representing homeowners in foreclosure cases.
    3. Knowing this, most lawyers are now declining representation of homeowners despite clear defects, lies and fabrication of documents relied upon by the lawyers supposedly representing a foreclosing party that many times does not even exist.
    4. Hence the doctrine that wrongful foreclosure claims ONLY arise after the foreclosure is complete produces an absurd result. Once the homeowner proves his/her claims they shouldn’t have lost their home, their life-style and their credit reputation, all based upon illegal acts that were known at the outset, the only remedy under that doctrine is money damages.
  5. The decision also addresses the very important issue of standing. Simply stated, if some party is designated as the foreclosing party, it is the duty of that party and the attorney representing that party to perform sufficient due diligence as to
    1. whether the entity exists,
    2. whether it has possession of the note,
    3. whether the note is endorsed to them by a party who owned the debt,
    4. whether the mortgage or deed of trust was assigned to them by a party that owned the mortgage and the debt, and
    5. whether the debt was in fact transferred from a party who owned the debt to the party claiming the right to foreclose.
  6. If they fail or refuse to perform that due diligence they are violating the law in Hawaii and most likely in dozens of other states. In Hawaii that alone gives rise to a cause of action for damages if damages can be proven, which in most cases is fairly easy. So they are liable for damages if they didn’t perform due diligence.
  7. If they did perform the due diligence and filed knowing that the threshold markers of legal standing are absent, it is malicious abuse of process, it is breach of statutory duties, and it is fraud because the filing of the the lawsuit is a representation that the due diligence was completed and showed legal standing. And it is probably RICO.

Summary: While it is difficult to predict how and when other states will react to this opinion, it seems likely that this decision in the State of Hawaii will make jurists in other states very uncomfortable. The bias to rule for the alleged foreclosing party just received a blow to any rationality supporting that bias.

 

 

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